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Genetic technology reveals how poisonous mushrooms cook up toxins
Date:11/12/2007

the toxin. By the time symptoms show up, a liver transplant is often the only hope.

Hallen, a mycologist, gathers mushrooms in the Michigan woods and often is called upon to help identify mushroom species for veterinarians, parents of small children and local hospitals often in a desperate race to beat alpha-amanitins effects.

Waltons lab works to understand the biochemical pathways by which natural products are synthesized in fungi. Fungal natural products that benefit human health include penicillin and the immunosuppressant drug cyclosporin. Studying their biosynthesis could lead to the discovery and development of new medicines.

To find the elusive gene for alpha-amanitin, they used what they term brute force a new machine at MSU that can sequence immense quantities of DNA quickly. The 454 LifeSciences pyrosequencer generates 100 Mb DNA sequence in one overnight run - twice the size of a fungal genome. Traditional sequencing methods require months to yield the same quantities. What they found was a gene that encodes the toxin directly with no need to first synthesize an enzyme that in turn would make the toxin.

The RNA goes in, and out comes the backbone of the toxin, Hallen said. After its initial synthesis, the toxin is then modified in several ways by the mushroom to make it exceptionally poisonous.

Walton said the discovery poses some interesting evolutionary questions. For example, why do only some mushrooms produce this toxin" And how did a handful of other, unrelated mushrooms evolve the same trait" Finding the genes points to how the trait could appear in one mushroom, but not how it evolved in mushrooms that arent related to Amanita.

Hallen and Walton also see the doors opening to a diagnostic test that could use DNA to determine if a mushroom is toxic or not. Identifying a mushroom by shape and color alone is often impossible if the mushroom has been cooked or partially digested, yet rapid
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Contact: Jonathan Walton
walton@msu.edu
517-353-4885
Michigan State University
Source:Eurekalert

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